In the very northwest of Indiana, the city of Hammond touches the Lake Michigan shoreline and continues down the state line before cutting east in an L-shape.
This is one of the oldest cities in Lake County, first settled in the mid-19th century and known for a wave of manufacturing that swept the region over the next century.
Nowadays Hammond is home to around 78,000, making it the most populous city on Indiana’s South Shore.
There’s much to appreciate in this diverse place, with a campus for Purdue University, a glitzy casino, an effervescent arts scene, craft breweries and parcels of nature bouncing back from the industrial days.
1. Wolf Lake Memorial Park
Mostly in Hammond, the 800-acre Wolf Lake straddles the Indiana-Illinois border, and is the site of a much-loved park on the Indiana side.
This is a natural body of water that has been shaped by humans over the last 200 years. Abraham Lincoln visited in the mid-19th century with Mary Todd Lincoln, who suffered an accident and nearly drowned here.
A little later Frank Lloyd Wright drew up a design for an amusement resort at the lake.
Previously associated with typical South Side heavy industry, Wolf Lake has made a natural revival in recent decades, partly thanks to a multimillion-dollar rejuvenation project by the U.S. Corps of Engineers in the 2000s.
The lake is now a hotbed for recreation in summer, when you can rent a canoe, kayak or stand-up paddleboard.
A treasured recent addition is The Pavilion, a waterside venue for major outdoor events with a design borrowed from Wright’s historic plans.
2. Indiana Welcome Center
Crossing the state line, Hammond will be many people’s first port of call in Indiana. In an eye-catching modern building, the Indiana Welcome Center is a great way to acquaint yourself with the Hoosier State and plot your next move.
There’s much to see in the W.F. Wellman Exhibit Hall, which has a range of exhibits about the state and South Shore. Also in the building is the John Dillinger Museum, delving into life on the South Shore during the gangster era.
It was in this part of the state that Dillinger (1903-1934) murdered a policeman during a bank robbery, before escaping from prison in Crown Point.
There’s a gift shop, picnic area and pet exercise area, while your visit may coincide with a seasonal event, including displays for A Christmas Story (1983), which was set in a fictionalized version of Hammond.
3. Challenger Learning Center of Northwest Indiana
A campus for the prestigious Purdue University is right here in Hammond on the east side of town.
This institution has been affiliated with no fewer than 13 Nobel laureates, 18 Olympic medallists and 25 astronauts.
One reason to pay a visit to the Hammond campus is for this hands-on STEM-oriented museum, which has branches across the country.
Stepping inside, kids are transported into a state-of-the-art mission control room and a space station simulator where they can intercept a comet, study the earth from outer space or coordinate a journey to the moon.
The center also has a 40-seat, full-dome planetarium for captivating presentations on the night sky and eye-popping laser shows.
4. Towle Theater
This compact venue downtown is the home of the cherished Towle Performing Arts Company, serving the South Shore with an annual season of musicals and plays.
Often innovative, these bring out the quality in experienced performers as much as fresh new talent, and are designed to challenge its cast, crew and audiences.
The theater also organizes a youth ensemble, educating young people about the entire process of creating theater, rather than just aiming to produce “stars”. This ensemble has two shows a year, with a musical in the fall and a non-musical in the spring.
5. Paul Henry’s Art Gallery
Behind the Towle Theater, near the trailhead for the Erie Lackawanna Trail is another cultural pillar in Hammond, blending the visual arts with live performance.
Set in a converted old hardware store dating back to the 1880s is an independent gallery that has a calendar packed with events.
Inside, mingling with old fittings from the hardware days, are enthralling installations in a range of media, by local and regional artists.
Opening hours are extended on the evenings when there’s a show at the Towle Theater. Typically, Paul Henry’s Art Gallery has open mics on Thursdays, with an eclectic mix of poetry/spoken word and live music.
6. Horseshoe Hammond
Part of the lakefront scenery since 1996 is this immense riverboat-style casino, managed by Caesars Entertainment and employing 2,200 people.
The current design of this vessel dates back to 2008, with 350,000 square feet of gaming space anchored by a huge main gaming floor.
This has more than 300 video poker machines, 700 new slot games, sportsbook betting and a wealth of table games.
One sensational space is Le Cheng, an Asian gaming area inspired by the Silk Road and decorated with rosewood furniture crafted in China.
Le Cheng is home to Foo Noodle Bar, one of three eateries at Horseshoe Hammond, ranging from casual to upscale. On the upper floor is a live performance venue, which we’ll talk about a little later in this list.
7. Whihala Beach
Strictly in Whiting, this popular public beach is east of Horseshoe Hammond on Lake Michigan.
This wide stretch of pale sand is patrolled by lifeguards, and has a swimming season from Memorial Day weekend through Labor Day.
Among the amenities there’s a concession stand, a boat launch, floating water park, flushable toilets, a grilling area, showers and a trail that links with Whiting Lakefront Park next door.
Swimming is only permitted when a lifeguard is present. Outside of the bathing season you can still visit for a walk or to relax on the beach on warm days.
8. 18th Street Brewery
Craft beer aficionados are spoiled for choice in the Chicago area, and the same goes for Hammond where you have a few choices close by.
One in the very heart of the city, surrounded by court buildings and public services, is the 18th Street Brewery, with a death metal esthetic.
This widely praised taproom is part of a chain with three locations, founded as a home brewing operation in Gary in 2010. In a 32,000-square-foot former warehouse, the Hammond location is now home to 18th Street’s production facility and has a full service kitchen.
There were 12 beers on draft when we made this list, and the broad selection featured no fewer than six IPAs, as well as three Stouts, one barrel-aged with vanilla bean (Little Inclination).
The food menu has beer-friendly bites, along the lines of brisket tacos, jerk chicken sandwiches and juicy burgers.
9. Hammond Civic Center
Close to Hammond City Hall is an imposing Art Deco multipurpose arena that opened in 1938.
Able to seat 4,500, the Hammond Civic Center is home court for the Calumet College of St. Joseph’s Crimson Wave basketball and volleyball teams, and these play in the Chicagoland Collegiate Athletic Conference.
The venue is a go-to for local concerts, Impact and WWE Wrestling, mixed martial arts and roller derby events.
This is also an important parks and recreation amenity, offering a fitness center, indoor pool, racquetball courts and an indoor running/jogging/walking track.
10. Mascot Hall of Fame
Just along the lakefront from Hammond in Whiting is the Mascot Hall of Fame. This organization was established in 2005 by the original Phillie Phanatic, David Raymond, with a children’s museum opening in 2018.
Mascots from college and professional sports are eligible for the HoF. A few stipulations are that the mascot has to have existed for ten years, has made an impact on their game and community, and is known for groundbreaking and memorable performances.
The museum in Whiting has a variety of interactive exhibits, all with a sports theme. Kids can find out about the history of mascots, learn about healthy dietary choices for peak mascot performance, find out just how heavy those suits are, enrol at “Mascot U” and design their own mascot.
There’s also a large indoor playground and a theater showing off some memorable mascot moments from sports history.
11. Erie Lackawanna Trail
This 17.7 mile, shared-use rail trail starts in downtown Hammond and follows the route of the short lived Erie Lackawanna Railway.
That freight line was formed in 1960 by a merger between the long-standing, but financially troubled Erie Railroad and the Delaware, Lackawanna and Western Railroad.
By the mid-1980s the railroad was abandoned, and plans were immediately made to turn the right of way into a rail trail.
Paved with asphalt and linking attractions like the Hammond Civic Center and Indiana Welcome Center, the trail is a great way to navigate the city.
Travel further south towards Crown Point and you start to leave the suburbs behind, with wildlife like rabbits, snakes, river otters and cardinals visible in the warmer months.
In Hammond this path also intersects with the shorter Monon Trail, which in turn takes you to the Pennsy Greenway by the Indiana-Illinois border.
12. Wolf Lake Aquatic Play Center
Something that bolsters Wolf Lake’s appeal in the summer is this large and cheerfully designed splash pad on the east shore.
Opened in 2016 and perfect for hot days, the Aquatic Play Center has a cluster of sprays and jets, and a highlight is a giant orange spinning contraption, drenching anyone below.
The Aquatic Play Center is fenced, with a concessions stand during the season, and charging a small fee for entry.
There are scenic views over Wolf Lake from here, and a short way to the north by the parking lot is a more conventional playground.
13. The Venue at Horseshoe Casino
One of the benefits of having a giant casino in the city is amenities like this concert hall on the second floor for major live events.
The Venue at Horseshoe Casino is a comfortable and modern auditorium, with a capacity of 3,400. If there’s an important recording artist or comedian coming to the South Shore there’s a good chance that you can catch them here.
The steeply banked seating ensures everyone has a good view, and in the lobby you can check out posters signed by all of the past performers.
A few bookings around the time we compiled this list were Charlie Wilson, Boyz II Men, Ledisi, The Whispers and Dave Koz.
14. Lost Marsh Golf Course
Just east of Wolf Lake is a public 18-hole championship course, known for its lush fairways and quick but reliable greens.
With views of the city all around, the scenery at Lost Marsh Golf Course is stunning, and amplified by another body of water, Lake George, which repeatedly comes into play.
The course has a new luxury clubhouse, with a Prairie School design inspired by Frank Lloyd Wright, housing a pro shop and bar & grill.
If you’re a less experienced player or want to work on your approach play, there’s a great 9-hole executive course here, as well as a driving range where you can shake some rust off your swing.
15. Hammond Lakefront Park and Bird Sanctuary
West of Horseshoe Hammond and Hammond Marina, there’s a little natural haven where a strip of lakefront has been left undeveloped.
There’s a beach here, backed by woodland and grassland. This setting is valued most of all as a stopover for huge numbers of migrant passerine birds during their spring and fall migrations.
The best place to see these is among the coniferous trees on the east side of the sanctuary. You can also head to the lakefront, where you’re sure to spot some waterfowl. An unpaved trail runs throughout the sanctuary, parallel to the lakefront.